Did You Know How HR was Born? - The History of HR... and How It All Began

Did You Know How HR was Born? - The History of HR... and How It All Began

If you're a HR Professional today, you probably may have heard of one or more of these old and new names of the HR function in the past and present:

Personnel Administration, Personnel Management, Human Resources, Human Capital Management...

First of all, I wish to credit LinkedIn Learning, an online learning platform provided by LinkedIn, that enables Anyone to learn Anywhere, Anytime online.

Through Linkedin Learning, I discovered heaps of great stuff, tips to ensure I stay abreast of HR's development. If you've not explored it yet, I encourage you to visit LinkedIn Learning today to find out more!


Now, back to the topic of this article, how was HR born?

To understand how HR came to be, we need to trace back all the way to the 1800s, during the period of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution marked a shift from factories and mass production. Imagine the number of people involved in this signifiant manufacturing movement.

It brought along an increased volume of manufactured goods and an improved standard of living for some. However, it also resulted in grim employment and living conditions for the poor and working classes. They were often underpaid and mistreated.

And what happened next was anybody's guess:

High labor demands + Unfair employment practices = Labor Unrests & Strikes

Thus, the Personnel Administration was born in the 1940s, out of necessity and to bring fair employment treatment and safety which are critical hygiene factors for the labor workforce.

By the 1970s, as people get more educated, affluent and aware of their civil rights, people started to question and challenge equal pay, gender and racial discrimination at work.

It was then the Personnel Management Department was born, to bring about that much needed attention to these important topics. To ensure employees' rights are respected and keep them happy at work.

Then as we move into the 1990sHR started to play an important and strategic role in organizations. You hear influential business leaders like Jack Welch with General Electric, talking about the importance of HR and having them in the boardroom making decisions with the CEO and CFO.

Fast forward to today's time, we have a globalised economy where Small Medium Enterprise and Multi-National Companies operate their business locally and overseas. Talents mobility starts to 'fly' and war for talents emerged. Very quickly, the function evolved to become Human Resources, and for some, Strategic Human Capital Management.

So, in summary, here are the timelines if you need something visual:

  • 1800s - Industrial Revolution
  • 1940s - Personnel Administration
  • 1970s - Personnel Department
  • 1990s - Human Resources
  • Today - Strategic Human Resources

Of course, I know some of us may still debate if HR is truly 'Strategic HR' today. This article does not seek to dispute or agree, but rather, to paint and just share the journey that the HR function has evolved and changed over the last two centuries!

I hope you found this article useful as we study the history of HR, so that we can learn about the past that is relevant to the future development of the function. By learning about the causes and effects of events in history, I think we can learn better ways to push HR to the next level.

HR will continue to evolve, as with most things in life. Hopefully, the function continues to change for the better, for both organizations and mankind.


This article first appeared on LinkedIn

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